Canucks Army GDT #13 – Canucks @ Sharks

For many people, the real NHL season starts today. The Vancouver Canucks play their first games of the year against the real powers of the Pacific Division, all on the road, and all in the span of four short days. Before travelling to Los Angeles to play the Kings and Ducks in back-to-back games on the weekend, they’ll be in Northern California tonight to take on the San Jose Sharks.

Read past the jump for a look at tonight’s game against San Jose.

Broadcast Info

Puck Drop: 7:30 PM PST

TV: Sportsnet 360

Radio: TSN 1040

Lineups

Defensive Pairings
Alexander Edler 
Alexander Edler
Chris Tanev 
Chris Tanev
Ryan Stanton 
Ryan Stanton
Kevin Bieksa 
Kevin Bieksa
Dan Hamhuis 
Dan Hamhuis
Yannick Weber 
Yannick Weber

Alex Burrows is eligible to return from his suspension. No word yet on who comes out of the lineup to make room. Luca Sbisa may return after missing last game with the flu. Ryan Miller is expected to start.

UPDATE:

Horvat gets promoted to 2nd line C with Higgins and Burrows. Vey moves back down to line 4.

BUT WAIT:

Sounds like Horvat is the odd man out then.

Defensive Pairings
Marc-Edouard Vlasic 
Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Justin Braun 
Justin Braun
Mirco Mueller 
Mirco Mueller
Brent Burns 
Brent Burns
Scott Hannan 
Scott Hannan
Jason Demers 
Jason Demers

Tyler Kennedy returns to the Sharks lineup after missing time with an upper body injury. Antti Niemi is expected to start in goal.

Preview

The Sharks struggled to control the puck out of the gates, but have still managed to keep pace in the Pacific. Their possession numbers have been rapidly improving, but they’re a sub-50% Corsi team so far this year, and their score adjusted Fenwick has been exactly league average. But despite going through an offseason mid-life crisis and buying a shiny new John Scott, these Sharks are largely the same as last seasons version, meaning that they’re still very likely one of the NHL’s best teams.

That doesn’t mean that the Sharks haven’t tried to go with a younger group though, as Matt Nieto will skate on the first line and rookie Mirco Mueller will play on San Jose’s second pair with team leading scorer Brent Burns. Rookies Barclay Goodrow (who immediately makes the NHL’s all-name team) and Chris Tierney have also seen action with the big club this year. 20-year old Tomas Hertl, who is off to a much quieter start to the year than 2013-2014, is also skating on the Sharks’ 3rd line.

As for Vancouver, they come in having won 5 of their last 6 games, thanks in large part to some excellent play from their top-6 forward group. A bit of a wrench was thrown into that group this morning, as Nick Bonino didn’t take the morning skate for maintenance reasons, after blocking a shot in Colorado. Bo Horvat took Bonino’s place during line rushes, but since Bonino’s expected to play tonight, that would indicate that Horvat is going to be the odd man out.

As I write this, Ben Kuzma confirms this is the plan on Twitter:

It seems a bit odd to have Horvat sitting since the last hockey-related thing you want to have your prospects doing is absolutely nothing, but I can’t say it’s the wrong call. Shawn Matthias and Jannik Hansen have seemed to be the two most likely players to come out of the lineup, but both have been playing well of late, and both have a longer track record of contributing at the NHL level than Horvat does. You’d like to see them get an opportunity to continue their strong play, especially against a San Jose team who’s bottom-6 is fairly out-playable.

Oh, and one final note: Luca Sbisa and Yannick Weber have been among the NHL’s most effective D pairings from open play (weren’t on the ice for the previous faceoff, so changing on the fly) so far this season. Which is hilarious and encouraging and terrifying all at the same time:

The sample is small enough as to be virtually meaningless, but it’s a good sign, and still pretty funny. I’d expect Luca Sbisa flirting with being a top-end NHL defenseman to be rather short lived though.